To the New Birth of Birth of Freedom Council Scouting Family:
First and foremost, we hope this message finds you and your family well. All of us are living through an unprecedented and concerning time. As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, we have been continuously monitoring the situation, gathering as much information as possible to aid in our decision-making process relating to camping opportunities offered by the Council. In particular, we have been working hard to identify a path that would allow us to hold summer camp programs at Hidden Valley Scout Reservation and Camp Tuckahoe this summer.
Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe are wonderful places where our Scouts can get outdoors, learn lots of new skills, earn advancement, have fun with their friends, and develop leadership traits. For many Scouts, summertime at Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe are the highlights of their Scouting year. But, as always, your safety and the safety of all our members, volunteers, and employees are our top priority.
It is with great sadness that we inform you that, after a thorough review, the New Birth of Freedom Council has been compelled to suspend our summer camp programs at Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe for the 2020 season. The unanimous decision of the Council Executive Committee was not made lightly and reached only after weeks of careful review and thoughtful deliberation of all options. We never imagined having to make a decision as difficult as this and waited as long as we felt we responsibly could, hoping that we could find that path to open Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe. Ultimately, though, it became clear that no such path existed.
Being able to legally and safely operate our summer camps has always been our top two priorities in the face of this pandemic. Under the Governor’s order, south-central Pennsylvania is still in the “red” zone and under a “stay-at-home” directive. At this time, the Council has not received permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Health that are legally necessary to operate Hidden Valley or Tuckahoe this summer. Given the current circumstances with the COVID-19 virus, it is unclear if or when either camp will be issued these permits. Also, under Pennsylvania’s phased reopening plans, the unknown timeline for large groups (like summer camps) to be allowed to gather is a significant concern this close to the planned start of the summer camp season. Even if our area moves to “yellow” on the Governor’s scale, we would be prohibited from gatherings of over 25 people at one time. Keeping in mind that our camps often have over 400 in camp at any given time, with many units themselves over 25, operation under the traditional model while complying with the Governor’s directive, is not feasible.
Also, based on expected guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, the PA Department of Health, and others related to COVID-19, we felt that the mass gatherings at camp would simply create too much risk to the safety of our Scouts, leaders, and employees (as well as their families at home once they leave camp) to conduct resident summer camp programs responsibly.
While the Executive Committee recognized that legality and safety concerns alone dictated suspending resident summer camp programs, even if those hurdles could be cleared, we concluded that permitted activities simply wouldn’t look remotely like the quality and character of summer camp program that our units have come to expect. While the Department of Health has not issued guidance about opening public pools, it is a real possibility that the camps will be precluded from opening their pools. Similarly, all equipment would need to be thoroughly and repeatedly disinfected several times a day, and there did not appear to the Executive Committee to be a path forward to clean program elements such as climbing towers, ATVs, rope, archery gear and more to be able to effectively offer instruction to our Scouts.
Moreover, to minimize the degree of personal interaction among campers and potential spread of the virus, the National Council is recommending to councils that all units at camp be divided into smaller subgroups (think of these subgroups as a camp within the camp). Each of these subgroups would then be kept separate from all other groups the entire time at camp, including rotating as groups between program areas. Freedom of movement would be severely restricted, and youth would not be permitted to simply wander around camp or participate in merit badge instruction as individuals or with a buddy. Camp-wide activities such as campfires, water carnivals, games, and even full-camp meals in the dining halls are virtually assured to be prohibited. This is a significant deviation from how we are set up to run programs and we concluded that the type of program that our units expect could not be provided under the current governmental and regulatory orders and guidelines.
Finally, in fairness to the more than 100 summer camp staff members we need to hire to work at Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe each year, we also felt we couldn’t expect them to wait in limbo indefinitely, not knowing if they had summer jobs or not. Our summer camp staff members are truly outstanding individuals, and while we know they’d all much rather be at camp next month, we needed to do right by them.
We will refund 100% of all monies collected for all 2020 summer camp programs at Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe. We plan to begin sending refunds out around June 1, and we’ll work as quickly as we can to complete the refund process for every unit. If we need additional information to process your refund, a member of our staff will contact you.
If your unit is interested in making a campsite reservation for either Hidden Valley or Tuckahoe in 2021 by “rolling over” $100 of your refund as a deposit, you can lock in 2020 prices for next summer for your entire unit. Please check our website soon for more information on this cost-saving option.
At this point, our Cub Scout Day Camps and Twilight Camps are still ON as scheduled. We are still monitoring developments and will keep you posted regarding Day and Twilight camps as we move forward. Also, even though campers won’t be able to be at long term resident camp at Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe this summer, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any summer camp programming. We are planning to announce our virtual summer camp offerings very soon as well, and we may be suggesting other options as well.
We are hopeful that we might be able to allow units or individual families to reserve campsites later this summer for camping while practicing social distancing. We’ll also be working to see if we can provide some limited programs at camp later this summer for our Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA members. Please let us know if you have any suggestions and watch for future announcements!
In the meantime, please stay safe and well. These are challenging times for everyone, including local Scouting, and we appreciate your support. Scouting is resilient and has persevered through many challenging times in the past. We will get through this together.
Yours in Scouting,
Ronald M. Gardner, Jr.
Scout Executive & CEO
May 13, 2020